The Exciting Conclusion of Sex, Straight Up!

Here’s the final episode of DocTurtle’s snarking of a contemporary category romance novel: a mathematician reads Kathleen O’Reilly’s Sex, Straight Up!

Almost there, folks.

It’s been a few weeks since I last snarked on this book, and even longer than that since I read the chapters I’m supposed to be snarking, so I’m finding myself re-reading the book trying to recapture my feel for it.

As I admitted in my last post, I finished reading the book in one sitting one morning before heading off to class. Although it would be a stretch to call the book’s ending thrilling, I found the story engaging enough to track down and tackle the denouement uninterruptedly. Kudos, Ms. O’Reilly!

Ultimately the book came together well for me, but more on that later. Here’s a chapter-by-chapter synopsis of the last 60 pages or so...

Chapter 13: Happy Birthday, Catherine!

Catherine’s birthday begins on page 161 and before the next ten pages are up becomes a bone of contention between our two protagonists, who can’t seem to leave bickering aside and fall in love already. This chapter is one of the book’s weakest.

The chapter’s high points:

1. The O’Sullivan Brothers bond over a heated game of racquetball (Daniel sees Sean as a “two-bit amateur”! What a cutely Cagneyian expression!).

2. Daniel realizes that he’s slept with his new love on his dead wife’s birthday (oops).

3. Brianna Taylor Kelley, “of the Seventy-first Street Kelleys” (granted I didn’t grow up anywhere near the elbow-rubbing range of the NYC social elite, but do people anywhere really talk like this?), is first mentioned: this is the selfsame Brianna Taylor Kelley whose initials adorned the ring found in the
O’Sullivan boys’ bar’s wall back in Chapter 6, and whom we’ll meet in person in the next chapter.

4. Page 161 brings further bouts of soi-disant hoo-haw busting sex!

And then on page 162 the birthday-themed game-playing commences when Catherine’s moms inadvertently reveals the special date to Daniel, from whom Catherine had heretofore hidden the occasion, thinking he’s only in it for the sex. “I didn’t know today was your birthday. Happy birthday.”

Catherine recovers over a two-martini lunch at Lever House! A quick internet search tells me that this Park Avenue eatery’s lunch menu currently features a 22-dollar hamburger with “hand cut french fries, gootessa cheddar, or maytag-burrata.” I’m a cheese fan, sure, but...huh? They also offer pork cheeks, “braised.” Hee hee! I’m showing my rustic roots again, aren’t I? (Incidentally, the trancelike and slinky aquatic sounds of the Lever House website’s theme music are going to be in my head for the next few hours...)

Random fact: the Maytag Dairy Farms, presumably makers of the maytag-burrata cheese adorning Lever’s selection above, were founded by the grandson of appliance maker Frederick L. Maytag. Whoda thunk it?

Anyway, back to our story...

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I don’t want you to think I’m, you know, expecting something from you because I’m trying very hard not to...A birthday’s a huge thing for me, and I’d rather you not know about it, because if you knew, then you’d think you have to make a big deal out of it, because I expect a big deal, and I don’t want you to feel like you have to.”

Ooooooooookay...so I guess it’s time to shut things down, now that Daniel’s finally started to show signs that he’s growing comfortable with the relationship?

Chapter 14: The stately town houses of Central Park

It’s going pretty well between Catherine and Daniel, and for several chapters it began to look as though the path from where they stood to everlasting bliss was uncluttered and clear.

Then came Brianna Taylor Kelley and her eye-popping classical décor (including a real Gainsborough). It appears that long ago Ms. Kelley’s husband of one year, a firefighter, died in an explosion while on duty, inexplicably embedding the ring in the wall of the bar. At this point things go south quickly for Catherine.

“You didn’t remarry, did you?” Daniel asks Ms. Kelley.

“No. Everyone wants to replace things, replace people, but this house is filled with irreplaceable things, and Samuel was irreplaceable, too.”

Well, shit.

We learn in the next few pages that Daniel’s only trying to let Catherine down gently, knowing full well that sparks will fly between the two of them when it comes out that he and Catherine can find absolutely no evidence showing Charles “Don’t Call Me Chuckie” Montefiore is not guilty of collusion. Of course, this doesn’t stop them from having YET MORE SEX.

This chapter closes at the Montefiore Auction House offices, where Catherine and Daniel get an F in “ferreting” as they fail to find even a scrap of evidence that might exonerate Grandpa, but an A in “exhibitionism” as their affair is discovered by house skulker and nogoodnik Foster Sykes. Foreshadowing? Naaaah...

One final note: Kathleen O’Reilly atones for her sinful “hoo-haw” and endears herself to me eternally in her use of the word “schlub.”

Chapter 15: Busted! [Warning: spoiler alerts!]

This short chapter’s packed full of action as the various plot lines begin to converge.

So, Daniel’s been pulled from the audit for “having an affair with someone closely connected to the client.” Worse yet, Daniel’s higher-ups are moving forward with his report, a scathing indictment of Charles “Auctionmeister” Montefiore.

In the time-honored tradition of adding insult to injury, Daniel dumps Catherine: “I thought I could have a relationship, but I can’t. I’ve loved the time we’ve had, and there’s absolutely no other woman that I would want to be with other than you, but this limbo isn’t fair to you, and I don’t think I can move past it.”

Well, hell.

The chapter’s ending passage includes another sly return to the Forgery motif: “With a flourish, Catherine slung her faux Prada bag over her shoulder and heard the seams rip even farther apart. Because at the most personal levels there were some things that just couldn’t be faked no matter what.” Not bad, Ms. O’Reilly!

Chapter 16: Tennessee Williams called, he wants his scene back [Oh, and more spoiler alerts...]

Drunk as hell and baited by his brothers (“transitional babe”?), Daniel leaves their Wednesday night poker game to do his best Stanley Kowalski impression. “Can you get me in the building?” he asks Catherine. “I need to get inside there.”

The clouds now part, revealing rainbows and fairy puppies and angels that poop chocolate and gumdrops.

First, after a cursory survey of the auction house’s phone logs, Daniel digs up the evidence he needs to exculpate Charles Montefiore and at the same time incriminate the company’s IT director.

Then, with the help of his loving mother-in-law, Daniel finally finally finally finally finally gets it through his thick skull: “Don’t wait too long, Daniel. I was married to my Bernard for forty-three years, and I wouldn’t get married again because I was too old, too set in my ways. You’re set in your ways, but you’re not too old, Daniel....Bring me the grandkids, and I’ll be happy.” No pressure, Daniel.

Finally, Daniel asks Catherine over to his apartment for the first time so that he can bare all, dumping his heart, soul, and everything else sloppily at her feet in a bucketful of emotional goo. What ensues is a well-written, entirely believable, and genuinely heartwarming dialogue in which Daniel begs Catherine to give him a chance, which she does.

Three pages later (and on the morning after 9/11, no less!) Daniel asks Catherine to marry him for the first of what will be 104 times (according to the book’s one-page Epilogue).

And it’s Happily...Ever...After.


My overall impression?

I’m sure it will come as no surprise to the SBTB regulars that I most definitely came to this book with various preconceived notions. Mea culpa. “Low-grade bodice-ripper” comments aside, I’m sure I undertook this reading assignment with expectations of purple prose and tenuous plot twists that served only to tie together various sex scenes that would ensue between the book’s protagonists.

I have to be honest that the first several chapters did little to sway me from these views; I felt the writing was overwrought and the characters a bit over-the-top. Much of the dialogue and description was simply silly (viz. “man-man,” “velvety hardness,” and “hoo-haw”), and the characters’ slowly-building relationship was limned in two scanty dimensions.

Chapter 11 was where things started to pick up for me. O’Reilly’s writing grew more zestful as the Forgery motif made itself known in the back of the Chinatown shop where Catherine and her friends had been trapped. As the characters became more real and more well-rounded, I had more sympathy for them, and more sympathy for their plight. I’m sure this newfound sympathy was evident in my slackened snark. The last sixty pages or so I read all at once, genuinely interested in the novel’s conclusion.

Ultimately, I was satisfied. As I’ve said before, Kathleen O’Reilly shows herself to be a solid and engaging writer: if she can get me to turn a few dozen of her pages without a pause, she’s got something going. While her style is not my cup of tea, it’s admittedly effective.

So, is category romance for me? I don’t think so, but I’m glad to have had a chance to learn a bit more about it. Nevertheless, I have to admit that I’m looking forward to my next reading assignment.

Please let me say that I am grateful for the overwhelmingly positive feedback I’ve received from the SBTB readers (and humbly chastened by the constructive criticism), and I’d like to give my sincerest thanks to Sarah for the opportunity to post my reviews on her blog. I hope you will all continue to follow my breakdown of Georgette Heyer’s classic, An infamous army, which is likely to cleave more closely to my own reading tastes.


Erik said...

Why that Heyer? I'd have thought they'd give you Venetia, or The Nonesuch, or Arabella (her three best and funniest).

xenobiologista said...

Thanks for the entertainment, I've been following your synopses of Sex, Straight Up over the last several weeks.

Zoe Winters said...

Now try a single title paranormal romance, like "Pleasure Unbound" by: Larissa Ione. Or a really good historical like: "The Price of Desire" by: Jo Goodman. Both really excellent reads.